Lakewood Muni Bldg. Main Floor Loos Sport ADA Signage, but No ADA Amenities

September 22nd, 2016

[Editor's Note: At 7:28 p.m. on September 23, 2016, this story was edited for style, content and accuracy.]

A penny saved isn't necessarily a penny earned.

That is a lesson in government budgeting that public officials would be wise to learn.

Case in point: Lakewood Town Hall, home to the administrative offices of the state's fastest-growing municipality.

Instead of renovating the first floor men's and women's bathrooms to comply with the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, local government has implemented a less expensive alternative.

Township officials have installed an ADA compliant sign on the men's room door.

The sign, which includes the universally-recognized symbol of a figure in a wheelchair, advises members of the public that may have a disability of the following:

"HANDICAP RESTROOMS
2nd FLOOR
USE ELEVATOR"

There's just one problem with directing disabled citizens to the second floor bathrooms - the only elevator in the building is currently out of order.

According to township officials, they are waiting on delivery of a part that has to be made to order due to the age of the building.

Local historian Charles Mandell, Esq. describes on the township Web site how the Lakewood Municipal Building has evolved over the years.

"Up until 1902, the Township of Lakewood had no town hall," Mandell wrote. "The (Lakewood Township) Committee met in the various stores and offices of its members. However, in this year, Captain Alfred M. Bradshaw furnished the Township with its first Town Hall, a brick building located on the corner of Ocean Avenue and the railroad. This building served as the Township Hall until 1924, when a brick structure was erected in the place of the present Municipal Building (which itself was erected in 1969)."

His description did not detail any renovations required by law or necessity to the current township municipal building since construction was completed in 1969.

Just 10 years ago, NJ News & Views reported a similar issue in ADA compliance at Lakewood School District administrative offices.

In a December 10, 2006 post, this editor/reporter reported her findings after inspecting district administrative offices for handicap access. At that time, district administrative offices were located at the former Princeton Avenue School, built in 1912.

The Lakewood Board of Education has since sold the building.

NJ News & Views reported that Princeton Avenue School, where district offices were located, was not in compliance with the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In almost a century of ownership, the Lakewood Board of Education had failed to renovate the facility so that all members of the public could conduct business there.

The Lakewood Board of Education responded to the report by having signage placed at the front entrance, directing the disabled to a side entrance for access to the building. Additional signage, which was also added, instructed the disabled to ring a buzzer to call for someone to open the doors or to help them use the lift chair in the entrance stairwell, which seated only one.

Despite those measures, as well as the board's decision at the time to hold meetings in January at the high school, which is handicapped accessible, Princeton Avenue School still was not in compliance with ADA requirements.

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) establishes state standards for compliance with ADA requirements for handicapped access to public buildings. The International Codes Council/American National Standards Institute (ICC/ANSI) 1998 Standard on Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities (A117.1) is the reference guide for determining accessibility in New Jersey. It was adopted by the state Uniform Construction Code (NJUCC), in accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:23-7.2.

The NJUCC and N.J.A.C. 5:23-7.7(a) require that at least 50 percent of a school building's entrances, but no fewer than one, must be accessible. The statute requires that the primary entrance or entrances used by the general public must be handicapped accessible. A separate entrance for accessibility is not allowed, according to the statute.

NJ News & Views noted 10 years ago that in order to make Princeton Avenue School conform to Federal law requiring handicap access, the board and district had to make extensive renovations to the main front entrance. The renovations included construction of a handicap parking area near the front entrance where there was landscaping; construction of ramps on the outside and inside vestibule flights of stairs; repair of broken stair steps inside the front entrance vestibule; replacement of the public telephone booth on the landing at the foot of the vestibule stairs, with one permitting handicap access; installation of drinking fountains that met handicap access requirements; and retrofitting of all bathrooms not already equipped with handicap stalls and sinks.

This editor/reporter also noted that although there was a chair lift inside the handicap-designated entrance on one side of the building, the district needed to install an elevator shaft at the front entrance in order to transport more than one disabled person at a time to all floor levels.

All members of the public should be able to conduct business in all government offices with facilities that meet ADA handicapped access requirements, whether attending a meeting or visiting administrative offices.

At that time, NJ News & Views reported, all members of the public could not.

In 2006, NJ News & Views also reported that the main floor bathrooms near the Lakewood Municipal Building auditorium were not handicapped accessible either. The building's handicapped-accessible bathrooms were located on the second floor level, but not the first. In order to utilize those facilities, members of the public or township personnel had to use the elevator or staircase to reach the second floor.

Even though there was an auxiliary generator to supply power to the building's elevator in the event of a blackout, a sign posted in the elevator cab stated it would not operate in case of fire. The notice advised passengers to instead use building stairs.

The stairwell is located opposite the elevator shaft. In an emergency evacuation in which the elevator is not operating, a second person would have to physically carry a disabled individual unable to walk down those stairs - just as they would have had to do that same year, when school district administrative offices were located in Princeton Avenue School.

At the August 16, 2012 meeting of the Lakewood Township Committee, senior advocate Larry Simons also lobbied for change to make municipal main floor bathrooms ADA compliant.

Lakewood committeemen paid heed to his request, but did not act on it.

According to documents NJ News & Views requested through the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) on December 7, 2012, the township engineer submitted a proposal the previous month for renovating the men's and women's first floor restrooms for ADA compliance, as requested by the township.

"Our engineering staff is fully trained in the engineering disciplines and has all the skills necessary to complete this project," Terence (Terry) M. Vogt, P.P., P.E., C.M.E., Senior Associate, Regional Manager, Remington & Vernick Engineers, told Township Manager Michael Muscillo in a November 29, 2012 letter.

Vogt priced the design work to renovate the bathrooms at $25,500.00, not including any asbestos remediation that might be required.

Despite the nominal cost, Lakewood did not give the work a green light.

They didn't have the money.

In a June 25, 2012 post, NJ News & Views reported that Lakewood Township had introduced a municipal budget balanced with multi-million-dollar I.O.U.s.

The I.O.U.s were future tax sale proceeds reported in the budget as account receivables.

According to multiple annual audit reports and findings, for years the Lakewood tax collector had failed to include all qualifying properties in arrears in all township tax sales, which is a source of government income.

The auditor also reported for years that the same tax collector, now retired, was not separately bonded, as required by law.

That was then.

Earlier this year, the township reported a multi-million-dollar surplus.

Now is the time to use those funds to renovate the first floor public restrooms, ensuring that anyone that visits Town Hall is welcome there.

Ten years ago, Lakewood Development Corporation (LDC) Commissioner Lynn Celli, who was disabled, discussed the lack of ADA compliance at district offices in Princeton Avenue School.

Celli told NJ News & Views that she did not think the board's decision to hold meetings at Princeton Avenue School unintentionally kept out the disabled. She said the decision discouraged resident attendance at board meetings.

The same can be said of Lakewood's Town Hall in 2016.

Most administrative offices and government meeting rooms are located on the second floor. Access to them, as well as the building's handicap bathrooms, is impossible with the elevator out of order for weeks.

"You don't feel welcome," Celli told this editor/reporter 10 years ago. "You have to work twice as hard to feel normal when your imperfections are a normal part of life."